Friday, June 30, 2006

Behold Your Enemy!

It has been bothering me for some time that I don't understand violent religious extremists. Why are they the way they are? Are they put up to it by manipulative people (as many believe) or does the instigation to murder come from within? Do they find a justification for sociopathic behavior in religion, or does religious zealotry lead to hatred and violence in some people? How the heck do middle-class Canadians become terrorists? This applies to doctor-killing Christians and those who incite them as much as to Islamic terrorists, but the latter are more prominent these days.

The Globe & Mail published an article called "Hateful chatter behind the veil" (June 29) about some of the wives of the 17 men who were arrested in Toronto recently for plotting to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange, a military base and a Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) office. The article is based on public Internet postings by the women, in English, that the Globe uncovered apparently with a Google search. There's something about reading a person's own words to get an understanding of where they're really coming from... and these women appear to be very, very scary.

Nada Farooq came to Canada from Saudi Arabia as a youngster. She was teased at school; her name is pronounced "needa" and kids called her "Needa Shower". If the suggestion is that she became what she did because she suffered intolerance, I think this is a red herring: every kid is taunted and teased in school. That seems rather mild compared to some of what I witnessed, and if this is the biggest instance of intolerance that the reporters could uncover, then that doesn't seem to be a factor.

She grew up in a stable family with two parents in one of the most ethnically diverse and immigrant-supportive places in the world, metro Toronto. Her father is a pharmacist. He dispenses drugs at a Canadian military base and supports the military intervention in Afghanistan. Farooq finished high school and her parents wanted her to go to university. Farooq's father says that he never heard extremist views from her like those she expressed in her Internet postings. She is very devout, according to her father - much more devout than her parents.

According to her Internet postings, Farooq hopes that all her sons will become terrorists. She considered adding a clause to her marriage contract that she could divorce her husband if "he ever refuses a clear opportunity to leave for jihad".

While a student at Meadowvale Secondary School, Farooq founded an Internet forum for Muslim students and she and another suspect's wife, Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal, used it to promote radical views to the students. They posted videos of the beheadings of US hostages and wrote posts with titles such as "Terrorism and killing civilians" and "Behold Your Enemy!"

Jamal, a native of Cape Breton who converted to Islam and then married a Muslim, argued on the forum that Muslims should not vote in the federal election, saying: "Are you accepting a system that separates religion and state? Are you gonna give your pledge of allegiance to a party that puts secular laws above the laws of Allah? Are you gonna worship that which they worship? Are you going to throw away the most important thing that makes you a muslim?"

In her mid-40s, Jamal was by far the oldest participant in the Meadowvale high school student forum. According to the Globe, Jamal expressed hate for banking, the UN, women's rights, Canadian laws and Americans.

Jamal told the Meadovale students, "You don't know that the Muslims in Canada will never be rounded up and put into internment camps like the Japanese were in WWII!" Writing about Americans, she told them, "Know what you will face one day. Let them call you a terrorist, let them make you look like a savage, but know that THIS is the filth of the earth, the uncivilised destroyer of humanity...Know from this day that this is not an Iraqi problem, it is not an Afghani problem, it is not a Palestinian problem, it is not a Somali problem. IT IS YOUR PROBLEM!!!"

Farooq's online avatar is a picture of the Koran and a rifle. She repeatedly referred to Canada as "this filthy country." In her postings, according to the Globe, Farooq expressed hate for gay people, Jews, Americans, moderate Muslims, and Canada. Here are some of the things she wrote:

* "All muslim politicians are corrupt. There's no one out there willing to rule the country by the laws of Allah, rather they fight to rule the country by the laws of democracy."

* She posted a photo of a gay rally, and wrote, "Look at these pathetic people. They should all be sent to Saudi, where these sickos are executed or crushed by a wall, in public."

* "May Allah crush these jews, bring them down to their kneees, humuliate them. Ya Allah make their women widows and their children orphans."

* "Those who are sincere in pleasing Allah will go to whatever length to help the true believers. Those who fear Allah more than they fear the CSIS. Those are the ones who will succeed in the hereafter."

The Canadian model of a female monster is, of course, Karla Homolka. It's interesting to compare Farooq and Jamal to Homolka. All three seem to be sociopaths. Homolka took a passive role in that she helped her husband torture, rape and murder young women for his pleasure. Farooq and Jamal are instigators but it's not clear whether they would ever engage in murder themselves. They egg on their husbands, they plan to raise their children to kill, and they manipulate young Muslims. They apparently hate everyone on earth who is not a devout, radical Muslim and want to see every non-Muslim institution destroyed.

One woman is an immigrant from the Middle East who grew up here; the other is a Cape Bretoner who converted to Islam. Both seem to take for granted the freedoms they are afforded in Canada. They make explicit arguments about the right to free speech, and yet they say they hate Canadian law because it is not religious law. (Not that it's unusual for sociopaths to feel strongly about their own rights but disregard the rights of others.) They don't, at least in the quotes from the Globe article, seem to have any goal other than to enjoy their comfy life in suburban Canada and incite hatred and murder.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Criminalizing Women's Health

Partial birth abortions, or abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, are almost always done when the fetus is not viable (usually hydrocephalic) and the woman's health is in danger. They are extremely rare, representing only 0.03% (three one-hundredths of one percent) of all abortions in Canada. It is ironic that someone trying to ban this necessary medical intervention should call themselves "pro-life."

Liberal MP Paul Steckle (Huron-Bruce) recently introduced a private member's bill to restrict partial-birth abortions. His bill imposes penalties of 5 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Luckily, only one third of MPs are anti-choice. That's a lot more than there were before the last election (78 of the 100 anti-choice MPs are Conservative), but it's not enough for the bill to pass.

In his speech introducing the bill, Steckle said that Canada is one of the only countries in the world that provides no legal protection for the unborn. Here's another take on the same statistic:

As the only democratic country in the world with no legal restrictions against abortion, Canada serves as a valuable model for other countries. In the eighteen years since the Supreme Court declared our abortion law unconstitutional, we've shown that a lack of laws actually leads to earlier and safer abortions. In Canada, about 90 percent of abortions are done by 12 weeks, and about 97 percent by 16 weeks. This is a better record than in the US, where numerous legal restrictions serve mainly to delay abortions and increase the medical risk. Moreover, Canadian women have almost one-third fewer abortions than American women, and at rates comparable to countries in western Europe. Canada also enjoys one of the lowest maternal mortality and complication rates for abortion in the world.

We're not doing as well as that might sound. For example:

* Less than 18% of Canadian hospitals perform abortions, and many communities - including all of Nunavit and PEI - have no hospitals that perform abortions at all.
* The abortion drug mifepristone (RU-486) is not yet available in Canada.
* There are often insufficient services available to women with unwanted pregnancies to help them find the solution that is right for them, which may very well not be abortion.


Natural Allies

The national scene in Canada has two natural alliances these days: the Conservatives and the Bloc, both of whose main goal is to reduce the role of Ottawa; and the Liberals and NDP, who want a strong federal government that can assure social programs.

Harper is sweetening his alliance with Quebec with a goodly amount of monetary handouts and pandering. There may still be problems because the values of the Harperite Conservatives and the Bloc are so different. The Bloc may not be willing to make it formal. But it looks like we have to factor in an unofficial Conservative-Bloc alliance in the long term - a pretty scary proposition for the future of Canada.

Meanwhile the Liberals and NDP, whose values and goals are so closely aligned that we're like identical twins, are at each other's throats. Is there no way that we can call a cease fire for our mutual benefit? I don't have enough experience in these matters to know how to do this, but perhaps we could get creative. Start small, finding ways to benefit each other by cooperating. Maybe eventually we could get more bold... Is it preposterous to suggest that we each pull some candidates from key ridings instead of duking it out everywhere? (Perhaps.)


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My Take on Stephane Dion

I like Stephane Dion. I remember when Chretien brought him into cabinet; I was living in Africa at the time and read about it in Macleans. He seemed such a catch: super-smart, savvy, charismatic.

I still like Stephane Dion. He's running a great leadership campaign. He's doing really well in the debates. He has ideas and vision and he's obviously competent. He almost has it all.

Almost... but I'm still not over the hurdle that he's from Quebec. For nearly 40 years, Canada has had a Prime Minister from Quebec (not counting three who lasted 9 months or less). Before the Bloc, the Quebec swing vote determined which party would win, so to win a fedeal election a party's leader had to be from Quebec. With the Bloc all that was supposed to change, but somehow it didn't.

And just as importantly... he is part of the group that did a lot of good things but that also took the Liberal party off-track: the Chretien and Martin governments. I'm not saying that he was part of the Martin-Chretien feud or the sponsorship scandal or the decision to reduce social programs, foreign aid and environmental spending, but he was a very senior member of the group that did all that. It was a hard time for the party to stay true - no viable opposition, seemingly unending majorities - but they should have. Renewal is the most important thing for the party right now, and despite all his passion and fresh ideas, Dion is one of the old guard.

Bottom line: I want a Liberal leader who's not from Quebec and who represents a new start for the party. It's an emotional thing, and perhaps I can overcome it. I'm not sure about that.

But there's a more serious issue: can Canadians overcome it? Dion is not popular in Quebec. His English is difficult to understand because of his strong accent. Because he was a cabinet minister, he could be vulnerable to attack on all the failings of the previous administrations. Can he beat Harper? I think he could do a good job as PM, but I'm not sure he could get there.

On the other hand, we have three strong qualified front-running leadership candidates (Ignatieff, Dion and Rae) and all of them have handicaps.


Peace in Iraq

American Republicans are geniuses at using language to change reality, or at least the perception thereof. It may seem goofy that they all come out one week spouting the same phrase, but before you know it their spin has wormed its way into our consciousnesses and got us all thinking the way they want - at least for a couple of weeks until they've won the vote or the election or whatever.

The latest spin-lie has to do with peace in Iraq. The story is that we are trying to help the Iraqis achieve peace but they have to try too, and if they don't try hard enough then eventually we will have to stop helping them.

The lie in this is that the US created the mess, and the Iraqis are largely powerless to fix it.

Take for example the local militias. The US disbanded previous law enforcement and then used inadequate screening to select new forces, especially at the management level. The result is corrupt law enforcement that is run by local gangs who are terrorizing the population, demanding allegiance from citizens, stealing, and killing people.

Or the death squads in the Ministry of Interior. Or members of the Iraqi government, widely believed to be puppets of the US, who are corrupt, incompetent and in some cases extremists.

Another area where the US is responsible and is not stepping up to the plate is the destruction of infrastructure in Iraq. How are the Iraqi people supposed to get back to normal when their sources of electricity and water were bombed into oblivion in 2003? There also needs to be massive rebuilding of roads, bridges, and buildings.

Perhaps the US is not capable of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and helping them get back to pre-2003 prosperity. As Baghdad Burning says, "As long as foreign troops are in Iraq, resistance or 'insurgency' will continue" and there will be violent unrest. The US was able to start rebuilding in Japan immediately after the Japanese surrender in WWII, but in that case the US was not the bad guy. Now, most definitely, it is.

So maybe the US should pull out of Iraq, but only if it pledges the hundreds of billions of dollars it will take for other countries to fix the mess.



I was in Boulder Colorado last week, and was struck by the number of times I heard reference to the need to tighten security at the US-Canada border. There seem to be two motivations: (1) The recent concern over illegal immigration from Mexico is being expanded to include concern over [non-existent] illegal immigration from Canada; and (2) There is a growing belief, brought on by wholly spurious accounts from media and politicians, that Canada is a hot-bed of terrorist activity and represents a real threat to Americans.

My first reaction was to be a bit pissed off. But then I started to think about it more, and realized that the US concerns don't have to be valid. It's the right of Americans to tighten up any of their national borders for any reason.

Some Canadians believe that the northern border states won't allow the new passport law to come into effect, but given that Canadians are far more likely to have passports than Americans, it will benefit the border states to make it more difficult for US tourists to leave the country.

It's part of the post-9/11 world that the US has changed, and instead of wailing about it Canadians should accept and adapt. In this case, it seems that the only solution is to strengthen our east-west ties (Asia and Europe) and loosen our north-south ties. If we don't, we're possibly in for big trouble down the line.

As Walt Kelly said, "When you starve with a tiger, the tiger starves last."


Friday, June 09, 2006

My Take on Gerard Kennedy

I have been holding off saying what I really think about the Gerard Kennedy. I have felt a bit uncomfortable being negative about him, and I still am... but what the heck; here's what I think.

There's a lot of talk about Kennedy running two food banks, but I'm not sure that the people talking about it understand what running a food bank entails. I was a volunteer at the Daily Bread food bank for a couple of years during Kennedy's time there as Executive Director. My impression was that Kennedy was essentially a media spokesperson. I can't remember how many paid employees there were at the Daily Bread, but I think it was just a few. There was also a board of directors that seemed to be making a lot of the decisions. I'm not saying that he did nothing - just that his experience there is being blown way out of proportion.

I checked out Kennedy's record in the Ontario legislature, and he hasn't shown much interest in anything outside of education and social services. It's great that he's got that niche but federal leadership requires a whole lot more. Added to that he only has provincial political experience - and not much of that.

Kennedy's campaign seems to be well-financed. In the candidate videos all the other candidates address the camera, but Kennedy's video is a glitzy music-backed montage in which he appears only in still shots. To me, this video emphasizes his weakness as a public speaker and his appeal as a pretty-boy.

If Kennedy were a brilliant speaker and thinker it wouldn't matter so much that he was unable to get a university degree from undemanding programs at two universities (and I think more than four years of effort). He's a lightweight, and Harper would crush him in a debate.

I would have assumed that Kennedy's leadership bid is just a way for him to move up to a cabinet position when he switches to federal politics, but a lot of people (including some key people in my riding association) are backing him for leader. His bid is real and while he's not the frontrunner, he has a very real chance of becoming leader.

In short, I don't think Kennedy is qualified to do the job. He may be one day, but I'd say even that is a long shot. At the best, if we elect him he won't be ready to take on Harper until five years from now, and handing Harper five years (and possibly a majority) is a disastrous plan.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

What Our Leader Needs to Do

Someone calling themselves CuriosityKilledTheCat added a comment to my May 7 endorsement of Bob Rae, and it was so bang on that I decided to reprint their comment here. Even if you don't think Bob Rae should be Liberal leader, this is a good start to a discussion on developing a response to Harper.

Here's what CuriosityKilledTheCat wrote - and many thanks to whoever you are!

At last, a Liberal candidate who calls a Harper spade a Harper spade ...

In his speech to the Economic Club of Toronto on June 6 (available at, Bob Rae sets his sights very clearly on Harper and his governance as Prime Minister, and draws very clear lines showing how different Canada would be if Rae was PM instead of Harper.

The only way to fight a politician like Harper is to call him on things he says and does. And given the vacuum created by the Liberal leadership campaign, it is refreshing to see at least one of the candidates taking on Harper and his cabinet.

A few quotes which show clearly what Bob Rae thinks of Harper's course:

- About Harper's budget's shortcomings with regard to promoting the economy: "And yet, for the first time in nearly a decade, this year's federal budget was bereft of anything for the "excellence agenda." This is a serious omission. Again, it speaks to the short sighted, politically motivated agenda of Harper."

- About Harper's attitude to child care, Kelowna and Kyoto: "Stephen Harper's decision to cancel the national plan on child-care, to tear up the Kelowna Accord, and to walk away from Kyoto are all examples of an outmoded vision, driven by small minded politics and rigid ideology."

- About Harper's policies with respect to children: "Small cash giveaways for kids are no substitute for leadership on early childhood learning and support for families. If governments had done the same a hundred years ago, we would have no libraries today."

- About Harper's attitude to the First Nations: "Stephen Harper's cancellation of the Kelowna Accord, the first major federal-provincial initiative in decades aimed at improving the social and economic condition of First Nations Canadians, is a national disgrace."

- About Harper and Kyoto: "The idea that the only way to meet the targets set by Kyoto is by shutting down the Canadian economy lock stock and barrel is empty fear-mongering."

- About Harper's budget and its aims: "The Harper/Flaherty inaugural budget also presented a grab bag of targeted tax incentives designed to curry favour with specific groups, to try and help push them over the top to a majority in the next election. This was an abuse."

Way to go, Bob. Tell it like it is.

This is the kind of leader the Liberals need.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Boycott of Chapters, Indigo, Coles and Starbucks

To Heather Reisman, CEO Indigo:

I am boycotting Indigo, Chapters, Coles and all Starbucks coffee shops for the month of June in protest of your censorship of the June issue of Harper's magazine. I am posting this email on my blog and calling on other Canadians to join me in this boycott.

Your book chain is too large and influential in the Canadian publishing industry for you to start censoring individual publications you don't like. Your actions could (and likely will) make publishers afraid to publish controversial material in the fear that you will censor them.

I hope you will revise your censorship policy.




I sent that email to Chapters-Indigo and Starbucks today. By the way, Starbucks is not (as far as I know) involved in the censorship by Chapters-Indigo (which also owns Coles), but since the two companies are partners in the stores, I figure it might be effective pressure to also boycott Starbucks. I urge you to please join me in this boycott - we cannot stand still while the country's dominant book seller dictates what can be sold in Canada. This is not the first time Heather Reisman has banned a publication.

For more information, see:

- Globe article: Indigo pulls controversial Harper's off the shelves
- The Cartoons: Mohammed Image Archive
- CanadianJournalist blog
- Harper's (there is a delay of a couple of months before Harper's posts articles online)


Friday, June 02, 2006

The Continuing Oppression of Iraqis

Baghdad Burning has another great post, this time about the rise of repressive fundamentalism during the US occupation (a story about a shop owner who loves football but was forced to take down his Brazilian flag by local clerics).

The first justification for the invasion didn't pan out (WMD).

The second justfication was to liberate the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator... but life is far worse for them under the US occupation.

I don't really have anything to add on the topic. I just feel that we have to all keep pressing the cause of the Iraqi people in the hopes that the US government will do right by them, or at least stop doing such terrible wrong.